Over the last decade or so, Christian apologists have directed significant effort in defending morally problematic biblical violence including texts which attribute prima facie evil actions to God as well as prima facie evil actions which are commanded or commended by God.
For example, Christian apologists offer various justifications of the texts that appear to convey God commanding genocide (e.g. Deuteronomy 20; 1 Samuel 15). In this article, I will briefly (very briefly) summarize four common pitfalls for these apologists.
Divine command theories of moral value
Third, many Christian apologists adopt defenses of biblical violence by way of appeal alleged outweighing moral goods. For example, the claim is made that the Canaanites had to be eliminated to ensure that the Israelites would not be corrupted by their wicked Canaanite culture. In other words, genocide can be justified by appeal to greater goods.
Suffice it to say, at this point, the apologist is in danger of backing into an act utilitarian account of ethics according to which virtually any act can be justified based upon outweighing goods. But is this type of utilitarianism really consistent with Christian belief? I think not.
Finally, the apologist will point out that our moral knowledge is indeed fallible and limited. Thus, they conclude, we shouldn’t assume that just because we think an action is wrong that it really is wrong. We ourselves have been wrong about many things: why not this, too?
However, one should be careful about using a legitimate point about human fallibility and limitation to call into question our most basic moral convictions, such as the conviction that it is wrong to target non-aggressive non-combatants (e.g. infants). If human beings really are wrong about a moral intuition this basic and intuitive, it is difficult to see why we should trust any of our moral intuitions at all. Needless to say, at this point, the apologist who chooses to question our basic moral knowledge is in danger of countenancing a deep moral skepticism.